By LUCY TOH
I’M NOT sure my reasons for choosing teaching as a profession were all that noble in the first instance. Basically, I hoped to one day have a family and I wanted to be in a career I could take time off from to raise a family and still return to. I also thought I’d be good at it.
After Junior College, I jumped at the opportunity to relief teach at Boon Lay Secondary, but I also interned with a newspaper and Mediacorp (then TCS) as journalism and law also seemed to be possibilities.
Did I pray about it? Did I feel a sense of calling? I would say both “Yes” and “No”. I do recall asking God on my last day at Boon Lay to confirm teaching for me. And two things happened that day which I took for that confirmation.
First, there was a conversation with a Secondary Two student, Peter, the only Christian student I knew of in the school. He’d become a Christian through his sister’s influence and was feeling lonely and finding the going tough. I was able to encourage him.
Then, there was the conversation I had with a group of Secondary Two boys while I was standing in for a sick colleague. Crowding round my table, we found ourselves talking about World War II; from that we moved to Europe, then Mesopotamia, Middle East relations. I was drawing maps on the board for them and could barely keep ahead of their questions. I was hooked. Somehow the two episodes spoke to me about the influence I could hope to have and, what’s more, it was fun.
I’ve been in the teaching service for 15 years now in three schools and at MOE. Currently, as a mother of three sons under five, I work part-time. With so many options for teachers in education-related fields outside of the formal school system, I do often reflect on what keeps me here.
Three things come to mind.
First, I am proud to belong to an education system that I really believe is first in the world in achieving not just the highest standards of literacy and numeracy across the board but giving thousands of young people opportunities they would otherwise not have had. Still, we aren’t satisfied with what we’ve done so far. There are so many kids out there who need and deserve even more.
Secondly, belonging to a school means belonging to a community. I recall with particular fondness my years as Head of English at Yusof Ishak Secondary School. We teachers laughed, cried, fought and worked long hours because we were passionate about serving the kids. There wasn’t a day when I did not feel deeply humbled by their commitment and ingenuity.
I feel very proud to have been part of a community where teachers modelled in their professional relationships with one another, the kind of regard we wanted our students to have for each other. The school must serve as a microcosm of life in society. And this role of the school is perhaps most critical for students who come from privileged homes. There simply isn’t anything quite like it and to be a Christian working in such a significant environment is exciting.
Finally, the teachers, trainee teachers and principals I’ve met through NIE Christian Fellowship and the Teachers’ Christian Fellowship have been examples to me of how Christians minister the love of Christ in secular schools through the quality of our service to students and to colleagues. Through many conversations with them, I’ve matured in my ability to defend the hope I have in Christ when others ask about it and to do so with gentleness and reverence (1Peter 3:15).
My hope is that you will consider whether God is calling you to join the teaching service (or perhaps rejoin after a season of serving or seeking God elsewhere). And, if you are thinking of teaching, consider teaching a language. We, in the church, are so blessed to constantly experience rich language in the preaching we hear, the songs we sing, the small groups we participate in and, above all, the Bible we read.
Christian teachers have an opportunity to greatly bless children who do not have such a rich language environment with a skill for life. Language lessons are also an ideal context for encouraging children to consider important questions in life and develop moral discernment.
Am I called to be a teacher? Yes, I think so. The struggle, no different from other believers, is that I have other responsibilities to family and church and one only has so much time and energy. The Bible says there is a season for everything. Regardless of the paid profession in which we serve the Lord, there will always be many unpaid areas of service as well. We need His wisdom daily to know which should be our focus in this particular season.
Lucy Toh is a wife, mother and teacher. She currently works part-time at MOE and worships at Living Waters Methodist Church where she serves in the under-six children’s ministry. She is Chairman of the Teachers’ Christian Fellowship, a sectional group of the Graduates’ Christian Fellowship.